Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Matching Music and Menus

Music and food go together like, well.....I can't seem to come up with a simile that doesn't include food references in song lyrics. They go together like beans and cornbread, like a cheeseburger in paradise, like a lime in a coconut, like jambalaya, crawfish pie and a file gumbo. When you have a dinner party, do you have your guests eat in silence?  If you are having a barbeque, would you choose to regale your guests with La Traviata?  For a holiday cocktail party, would you pick surf music as the soundtrack? Of course not. You would pick music to create the right mood, that special ambiance that will make your event most enjoyable. I am a big fan of Bob Blumer and his book The Surreal Gourmet actually has album suggestions to accompany various menus. It's a really interesting concept and one I think is worth exploring more.

I have the best job in the world. I am the general manager of a very cool non-commercial music radio station in Pittsburgh, PA - WYEP. Obviously, I am biased, but I would be remiss if I didn't make sure you knew about this amazing station. Hint - you can stream it online. But I digress. Pittsburgh has a thriving and growing food scene with new and interesting restaurants popping up all the time. One of the segments on WYEP is called "Pairings" and in this collaboration between our on-air host Cindy Howes and our own local celebrity Chef Bull Fuller, they match music and menus. Cindy will play a song and Bill will suggest a menu. Then Bill will describe a menu, usually something seasonal, and Cindy will suggest some music. This approach seems custom made for a dinner party, doesn't it?  So, that's exactly what we did.

Chef Fuller is the executive chef for the Big Burrito Group, which runs six restaurants. They do these benefit dinners once a month for local nonprofits in which they donate all the food and wine and the nonprofit sells tickets. We suggested to Chef Fuller doing this as a theme dinner inspired by a classic album and he loved the idea. In 2014, we hosted a dinner at Eleven restaurant inspired by Bruce Springsteen's "The River" and it was a huge success.  This time, we chose The Beatles "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. It was perfect timing for a perfect pairing. Chef Fuller personally designed and executed this perfect menu.

As our guests arrived, we handed them a glass of cold, refreshing Lambrusco and we had Sgt. Pepper playing on the blue tooth speaker in the corner of the room. Chef Fuller came in and talked about the menu before each course arrived.

Photo credit - Tom Petzinger
First course: Fixing A Hole
As Chef Fuller explained, all these items were small, round and would have easily plugged up a hole. The plate featured tiny chicken-liver mousse profiteroles served on a small pool of bright red hot pepper jam, which had enough heat to tickle the lips, but not enough to overwhelm the flavor of the smooth mousse. There was a delicate deviled quail egg anointed with a small bit of caviar. The crown jewel on this plate was a perfectly fried squash blossom stuffed with chervil-chevre and a lovely aioli. This course was paired with a crisp Villa Sandi Prosecco Superiore, Valdobbiadene, Treviso, Italy.

Second course: Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club Band/With a Little Help From My Friends
The inspiration here was the compliment of sweet, spicy and salty, all coming together in perfect harmony like old friends. This was a room temperature soup made from roasted sweet red peppers with a strong, salty eggplant and olive caponata in the bottom of the bowl. A couple slivers of smoked chicken rested on top of the caponata and they were drizzled with hot sauce. When the hot sauce was mixed into the red pepper puree, it added a wonderful high note to this luxurious soup. This course was served with a 2015 St. Antonius Kreuznacher Kronenberg Riesling Kabinett that had a sweet crispness which cut through the spicy flavors.

Photo credit - Cindy Howes
Third course: When I’m Sixty-Four
The dish featuring young ingredients is a homage to the lyrics of the song written from the point of view of a young couple in their salad days looking into their elderly future. This was a delightful salad made with roasted baby multi-colored carrots, grilled tiny young zucchini, shaved radishes, fresh fava beans that were lightly blanched, cherry tomatoes, little lettuces and a light yet flavorful red wine vinaigrette. On top of the salad was shaved Pleasant Ridge Reserve parmesan cheese, adding a pop of salty richness. For a salad, this dish was really complex, but truth be told the fava beans were my favorite part. This was served with a 2013 JCB No. 5 Cotes de Provence Rose, France

Fourth course: She’s Leaving Home
Chef Fuller explained the sparseness of the song, the stark, plain reality of a daughter leaving her childhood home and her parents and the simple truths associated with that separation. This course was an excellent reflection of those feelings - a perfectly cooked piece of Alaskan halibut with simple buttered potato puree, plain sauteed yellow wax beans, a lovely lemon buerre blanc and a small pool of tomato saffron infusion resting gently in the lemon butter sauce like a small drop of blood from a broken heart. It was so simple and delicious and it was served with a 2015 Cristophe Pacalet Saint -Amour Gamay, Beaujolais, France

Fifth course: Within You, Without You
If you are familiar with this song, you will understand the flavors of this dish. Heavily influenced by their time in India, this song is thick with the exotic sounds of the sitar and tabla and it speaks of Eastern philosophy. This dish was rich with Indians flavors in a beautifully roasted rare lamb loin resting on a green chick pea masala dosa with a buttery carrot puree at the bottom. There were two sauces on the plate, a thin red chutney and small pools of a refreshing yogurt and mint raita. For many, this was the star dish of the night. The wine served with this course was a velvety 2012 Deloach Vineyards Forgotten Vines Zinfandel, Sonoma County, California

Sixth course: Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
When Chef Fuller introduced the dessert, he explained that the pastry chef had laid claim to this song as her inspiration before the rest of the menu was planned. In some circles, it is believed that this song was written as a result of some experimentation with LSD. The imagery is certainly hallucinogenic, but the truth is that John Lennon wrote this song based on a nursery school drawing that his young son Julian brought home from school. The lyrics refer to tangerine trees and marmalade skies, cellophane flowers of yellow and green and a girl with kaleidoscope eyes. This dessert certainly brought the song to life.  It was an orange marshmallow whoopie pie resting on orange marmalade with a scoop of tangerine sorbet. There were gelatin pieces of green and yellow flowers that looked exactly like cellophane and the whoopie pie was adorned with a round sugar piece that looked like the lens of a kaleidoscope. The whole thing was stunning and delicious. The meal ended with the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club Band (Reprise) of tiny pepper jelly squares and chili pepper chocolates.

Sometimes you are fortunate enough to have a dining experience that is excuisitely memorable.  This dinner was certainly one of those experiences for me.  I hope this concept serves as an inspiration for you to pair music and menus in new and interesting ways.

No comments:

Post a Comment